Big changes in BCHL

Fewer teams in playoffs and more games with regional rivals may hurt Smokies

In an effort to raise the bottom line and improve player development, the BCHL introduced a number of changes last week that could impact the Trail Smoke Eaters

With the new rules, only eight teams will make the 2012 playoffs – four from each division.

While the Smokies made a good run at the top four last year, they finished fifth in the Interior Conference and would have been out of the playoffs.

In fact, says team president Tom Gawryletz, the Smokies would not have made the playoffs in each of the past five years.

The BCHL and the Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba leagues are considering pulling out of the Royal Bank Cup after next year, so the move to limit playoffs to three rounds could be temporary, he added.

“One of the reasons being, is that the season is too short, so for us this year to start our season later and continue it on to about the second week of March, we had to eliminate one of the playoff rounds – the only way to do that was to eliminate some teams,” said Gawryletz.

“So this is hopefully just going to be a one year thing.”

The agreement with Hockey Canada has not been ideal so the BCHL along with the other three western junior leagues plan to create a western championship that will better suit their schedules.

“With Hockey Canada and the Royal Bank Cup, the time is just too tight – we all find that starting hockey the first week of September is just way too early in this province.”

As a result, the 2011 BCHL season has also been pushed back to September 23 and will end March 11, going to a half-interlock schedule that will see teams play every other team but not necessarily visit every building.

Despite the late start, the Smokies’ training camp will go as usual at the end of August, as will the popular season’s tune-up, the Labour Day weekend tournament.

Coach Bill Birks is in Salmon Arm scouting the Under-17 B.C. Cup for future talent but said in an interview last week that the Trail team lost seven players to scholarships this year, creating a substantial void.

However,  the league also reduced team rosters from 23 to 21 players.

Having less players in the stands may limit a coach’s options, but it will benefit younger players and less competitive teams.

“The league looks at it that there were some kids on some teams that should be playing in the league and they were hitting on the 22nd – 23rd man roster on some of the better hockey clubs and unfortunately those kids weren’t getting the exposure – we just feel it’s better for everyone,” said Gawryletz.

The half-interlock schedule will emphasize inter-division rivalries so that the Smokies will only make one trip to the Lower Mainland, reducing costs but also potentially their number of wins.

“Those weekend trips are worth about $20,000 . . . so yeah, well save some money but at the same time it means we’re going to be playing the Pentictons and Vernons maybe instead of six times maybe eight, which I don’t think is a whole big deal but we’ll see.”

The new rules also legislate that each team must carry at least one 16-year-old and one 17-year-old player on the roster in an effort to develop homegrown talent.

The Smokies routinely carry a local 16- or 17-year old so that shouldn’t be an issue, he added.

The BCHL will also have an underage draft in October, that is meant to introduce 15-year-old players to the league and put them on affiliate rosters for the duration of the season. However, the team loses the rights to the player at the end of the season, a process that seems pointless to some teams.

“We already scout all the 15-year-old kids in the province . . . but if you’re not going to be able to protect those kids the following year, I think a lot of teams will take the attitude that we don’t need to worry about the draft.”